Ben Zahn, Gregory Carroll

Ben Zahn, left; Gregory Carroll

The two candidates in Kenner's mayoral runoff on Dec. 10 said they are sticking to the same core messages that allowed them to emerge from a field of five during the primary earlier this month.

Jefferson Parish Councilman Ben Zahn, a Republican, hopes that recipe lets him translate a commanding lead of 27 percentage points in the primary into final victory, while Kenner City Councilman Gregory Carroll, a Democrat, believes that approach gives him the best chance of overcoming the steep deficit he faces.

Zahn would have won the primary outright if he had picked up just 318 more of the 23,605 ballots cast. As it was, he won 49 percent to Carroll's 22 percent. Zahn carried 25 of the city's 36 precincts. 

Republican City Council members Keith Reynaud and Maria DeFrancesch and independent civic activist Al Morella won the remaining votes.

Local political pundits have made Zahn a clear favorite, largely because Reynaud and DeFrancesch won't be there to split the Republican vote.

Nonetheless, Carroll said he has not considered suspending his campaign. Dropping out of the race would be an admission that he was never suited to be Kenner's top government executive, he said, adding that the fact Zahn landed in a runoff tells him the city isn't wholly sold on him.

"There are people out there I must try to reach and say, 'Don't settle. Have the confidence that we can change the direction of our city,' " said Carroll, who first won a seat on the City Council in 2009. 

As he has done before, the race's lone African-American candidate touts his willingness to take stands that are unpopular with other Kenner leaders. He opposed a proposal by former Mayor Mike Yenni to double property taxes mainly to benefit the fire and police departments, an initiative the public voted down in 2011.

He also cast the lone vote against an ordinance allowing Kenner to convert traditional playgrounds that offer low-cost, recreational sports into "sports academies" that can be rented out to private clubs and leagues for practices and competitions.

He has pledged to start a city tourism bureau with revenue Kenner receives from hotel taxes, instead of outsourcing the job of promoting the city to a nonprofit organization.

He said he wants to let city employees earn overtime performing basic landscaping and street repairs rather than hiring outside contractors to do that work.

"We have an opportunity ... to move the city in a different direction than we have in the past (several) years," said Carroll, a program director for the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office. "I am the candidate to do that."

Zahn continues to cast himself as someone who has developed relationships on the Parish Council that will allow him to bring more parish money back to Kenner, where he served on the City Council for six years, beginning in 2006, before moving to the parishwide body.

He has pledged to accelerate improvements to Williams Boulevard and other city corridors to alleviate traffic and beautify them.

Zahn, who owns a decorating business, said he also will back efforts to erect upscale waterfront living options, boutique shops and entertainment venues in Kenner's Laketown district.

And he has said he will use the city's "planned use development" laws to ensure that the Esplanade Mall — a vital producer of sales tax revenue for Kenner — is maintained in a way that satisfies the community.

While Zahn said he was encouraged by his showing in the primary, he said he won't scale back efforts to engage voters in person, through mailers or in the media until the polls close on Dec. 10. Early voting begins Saturday.

"I talked about what Kenner is lacking and what it could become from Day 1," Zahn said. "I am going to continue to do the same thing, and if I am lucky enough to be mayor of Kenner, than I am going to stick to that moving forward."

The winner will complete the unexpired term of Yenni, who resigned before he was sworn in as Jefferson Parish president in January. The term ends in 2018.

City Councilman Mike Sigur has been serving as interim mayor. 

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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